Noël Coward's attempt to show how the ordinary people lived between the wars. Just after World War I, the Gibbons family moves to a nice house in the suburbs. An ordinary sort of life is ... See full summary »
According to Ronald Neame, George Bernard Shaw never came to the set, and when the film was screened for him, his only comment was, "Gaby, you astonish me," and then he left. See more »
(at around 1h 35 mins) Just before she scolds her husband for addressing her as "Biddy", a boom mic shadow passes over the lace trim on the bosom of Lady Britomart's (Marie Lohr) gown. See more »
Poverty and slavery have stood up for centuries to your sermons and leading articles. They won't stand up to my machine guns. Don't preach at them. Don't reason with them. Kill them!
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As originally released, this featured a spoken prologue featuring George Bernard Shaw himself, but it has been cut from all TV and VHS prints. See more »
I happen to like this film. It is almost as good as "Pygmalion", the previous Shaw - Pascal collaboration, but that film had Leslie Howard in it as Higgins, and as co-director. Here, although Wendy Hiller is back, Howard is not involved and Rex Harrison is the romantic lead (and the philosophic lead is Robert Morley, as the man of wealth Andrew (or, as Shaw says, "St. Andrew") Undershaft). It has a grand cast supporting these three, including Mary Lohr, Deborah Kerr, Emlyn Wiliams, and Robert Newton (for once showing what a terrific actor he was when not drunk). The best parts are when Newton tries to be stoical and get knocked down to show he can take what he gives out to weaker types. He does get under the skin of Torin Thatcher (as a reformed boxing champ, named Todger Fairchild), only to have Thatcher humiliate him by forcing him to pray.
Shaw the comic dramatist is always a treat. Shaw the self-created man with all the answers is another problem. "Major Barbara" is a look at how money is made by ways that are spiritually appalling (armaments and booze for example), but which guarantee jobs and hope to people who can't get them from the world of religion. One probably can agree with this point of view, but the constant pushing of Undershaft's point of view - nobody ever trounces him in an argument - is annoying. He seems omnipotent in this play (as Shaw, no doubt, wanted him to be). I once suggested that it would have been delightful if after one of his speeches he had actually had coughed blood (to show he was mortal). But Shaw never would have done that to St. Andrew.
Yet he did do something within a decade after writing "Major Barbara" that was inconsistent. Shaw probably never willingly discussed it with anyone. Undershaft rules his armaments firm with a total control. He dictates to the government on policies he needs. The stockholders don't seem to exist. But in 1916 Shaw's optimism about dictatorial capitalists had faded. World War I shattered him a bit, and he wrote "Heartbreak House". In it is the character of "Boss Mangam", a powerful business tycoon like Undershaft, who proves to have feet of clay. It seems the great tycoon has to satisfy those stockholders or his empire is taken from him. The same, of course, has to be true of "St. Andrew" Undershaft as well. He probably is his largest shareholder, but he never says he is sole shareholder. Undershaft was quite content and pontifical in 1907 when he describes his religion of cannons and prosperity for all who listen to him. But that was peacetime. Somehow, in 1916, "St. Andrew" would probably have found it harder to be as glib about his doctrines as he had been.
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